The Famous and the Dead

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FamousDeadWritten by T Jefferson Parker — You may accuse T Jefferson Parker of many things, but of writing a humdrum crime procedural? A defiant cry of ‘not guilty!’ will reverberate around the courtroom. The evidence for the defence? In no particular order, a woman in her 90s who lives down a mineshaft, a 20-something law officer with a personal fortune to rival that of Bill Gates, and a villain who may be centuries old. Do you get the picture? Lifetimes ago I was taught that Coleridge’s suspension of disbelief was one of the essential elements of fiction. Your disbelief will have to be suspended from a very high and sturdy hook before you turn the first page of this book.

Charlie Hood – who features in five previous novels – is a California police officer seconded to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit. He works undercover, mainly trying to control those three things which he says Americans love the most. In an earlier book – The Jaguar – he was involved in a violent and bloody rescue mission after Erin, the wife of his colleague Bradley Jones, was captured by a Mexican drug baron. Now, Bradley is suspected of trading with the cartels, and a heavily pregnant Erin has left him and sought refuge at Hood’s house. While Jones has been relegated to making school visits, Hood is heavily involved in trying to track down a gang of four men – three of them rogue cops –  from Missouri, who are selling Stinger SAM missiles to a Mexican cartel. His main source of information is Mary Kate Boyle, the ex-girlfriend of one of the gang. Add to this the disturbing case of a delusional young man with an illegal machine pistol, who is stalking a congressman, and Hood finds himself run ragged.

The eerie shadow of Mike Finnegan, who appears in previous novels, again broods over the action. It is Hood’s obsession to catch this man, if man he is. Is he a supernatural being and a timeless and malicious shape-shifter? Or is he just a very clever and manipulative psychopath? Finnegan is never far from Hood’s mind as he tries to corner the vicious Clint Wampler, the only survivor of the shakedown which traps the rogue Missouri cops. Is Bradley Jones up to his double-dealing tricks again, and can they prevent Jones’s newborn son from falling into the hands of Finnegan and his mysterious companion? The conclusion is cathartic and bloody, but Parker still has surprises for the reader.

Parker’s great skill is to put before us an array of contrary characters who should not, in truth, impress us. The greedy, selfish and amoral Bradley Jones should be the object of our scorn, but we end up on his side. Mary Kate is an unlikely femme fatale, but she is utterly beguiling, and male readers may end the book wishing it was us she was calling on her throw-away cell phone. And as for Charlie? We end up putting our arm around his shoulders, but wishing he had consulted us when it came to life’s big decisions. When I reviewed The Jaguar, to which this book is the sequel, I looked for cause, consequence, proof and motivation. I think now that these are not the values with which to judge The Famous And The Dead. Instead, try weird and wonderful. Replace implausible, improbable and impossible with daring, devastating and demanding. The supernatural elements of this book will not be to everyone’s taste, but if you want a great read, strap yourself in, and put your foot down hard on the gas. Read our interview with the author here.

Sandstone Press

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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